Altered States: Etching in Late 19th-Century Paris
In late 19th-century Paris, the printmaking process of etching underwent a revolutionary transformation. At a time when prints were usually made as copies of paintings rather than as original works of art, a revival of interest in etching led to greater knowledge of technique, allowing artists to experiment with subject matter and process more than ever before. This exhibition features works on paper by well-known artists such as Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt, as well as those lesser known today, including Albert Besnard and Henri Guérard, and features several new acquisitions to the RISD Museum’s collection.
The exhibition is complemented by the online publication Altered States: Etching in Late 19th-Century Paris, made possible by a grant from the IFPDA Foundation.
Altered States is made possible by the generous support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The RISD Museum is supported by a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, through an appropriation by the Rhode Island General Assembly and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and with the generous partnership of the Rhode Island School of Design, its Board of Trustees, and Museum Governors.
In late 19th-century Paris, the printmaking process of etching underwent a revolutionary transformation. Although the technique had existed for centuries and had been practiced by well-known historical artists such as Rembrandt and Jacques Callot, etching had dramatically waned in popularity by 1800.
The status of etching changed in the 1860s, when the French publisher Alfred Cadart and printer Auguste Delâtre co-founded the Société des Aquafortistes (Society of Etchers). This organization used etching to inspire a new interest in prints among artists and the general public alike by providing instruction, equipment, and space for working, exhibiting, and socializing. Their efforts led to what is known as the etching revival, a movement that spread across Europe and the United States.
This exhibition examines the decades that followed the etching revival, when the availability of new technical information about etching allowed artists to experiment more than ever before. Their creative use of process and subject matter—from developing new tools and materials to editing their compositions by producing variations known as “states”—inspired artists for decades to come.
Britany Salsbury Former Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs